School Choice

It Isn't Easy, But Here's How We're Passing Pro-Charter Legislation in Illinois

A few months ago, I chronicled my time in Springfield as a second-year lobbyist for the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS). During the legislative session, we fought tirelessly to preserve the Illinois State Charter School Commission and to pass HB5918, our first pro-charter bill since 2011. I am pleased to report that Governor Rauner has since then signed HB5918 into law. This bipartisan bill moves charter policy forward in Illinois by expanding potential renewal terms for high-performing charter schools from five years to a maximum of 10 years and increasing the supply of start-up funding in the state revolving loan program. What does this mean for schools and children? By extending renewal terms, HB5918 provides greater predictability for schools, allows high-performing institutions to keep more funds in the classroom, and increases stability as school districts transition through leadership changes. The increase in per pupil funding in the State Charter Schools Revolving Loan Fund to $750 gives new charter schools financial relief during their start-up years via access to resources that can be used for a variety of projects, including capital projects. While partisan politics can heavily sway legislators’ decisions in Springfield, HB5918 is a good reminder of the power in working together to achieve sound policy that positively influences the children in our state.

Tough Work in the State Capital

Thanks to the leadership of Representative André Thapedi and Senator Iris Martinez, HB5918 passed the House with 103 votes and unanimously in the Senate. Spending countless hours revising the original language and negotiating in both Springfield and Chicago, Representative Thapedi worked to move opponents to a status of neutral. Both legislators worked across party lines to make this bill a reality, and the Illinois Network of Charter Schools applauded their commitment to public school students across the state. During the negotiation process, it became very clear that charter adversaries opposed the bill without good reason; no explanations were provided for why they refused a bill with no fiscal impact on district-run schools, their teachers or students. Opposition for the sake of opposition is a catalyst to bad education policy for children, and our young people deserve better. Instead of wasting focus by attempting to prevent this bill from passing, charter opponents could have spent their energy working with legislators, such as Senator Andy Manar or Representative Christian Mitchell, on their funding reform initiatives that if successful, would provide millions more in education funding to the poorest students in the state. As advocates of high-quality schools for all children, we cannot neglect the needs of the 63,000 kids who attend charter schools because of adult interests. As I move into my third year lobbying on behalf of high-quality charter schools in Illinois, I am committed to continuing to push pro-charter legislation that has students’ best interests at heart because I refuse to allow political rancor to derail opportunities for children. Every bill does not have to be an uphill battle. While we do not always have to agree, we need to spend more time listening to each other, working together, and putting the interests of the children of Illinois before our ideological differences.  
Ariel Johnson is senior legislative affairs manager at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and a Surge fellow. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy from John Carroll University and graduated from Loyola University School of Law.

Join the Movement